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How South Asia can learn from Japan and Korea

By Imtiaz Gul

The Express Tribune, Nov 23, 2011

During the recent Saarc summit in the Maldives, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Gilani a “man of peace”. The two leaders also vowed to write “a new chapter” in the troubled mutual ties because, as Mr Singh put it, “the destinies of the people of India and Pakistan are very closely linked”. As a whole, particularly after the momentum in Pakistan in favour of the Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) status for India, the vibes look promising.

A series of recent meetings with serving and retired foreign ministry officials in Tokyo also suggest that they consider an improvement in the Indo-Pakistan matrix crucial for regional peace and stability. Most Japanese believe Pakistan has to think of ways of improving relations with India. Most of these officials, however, place the greater onus of responsibility on India; the Indian economy is leapfrogging and to keep the momentum, New Delhi needs to smoothen its ties with Islamabad, rather than drumming up jingoism.

One of the ambassadors pointed to the Japan-Korea model of political and business relations to argue that India, being in a much stronger and comfortable position, shall have to demonstrate magnanimity.

“South Koreans always complained about Japanese companies. They were rarely happy with us till (we) began compromising but the moment we started treating them as equal partners, they changed altogether,” said one of the senior most officials responsible for southwest Asia. Seoul, today, is almost equal to Japan in credibility, economic contribution and its role in global politics.

Officials explained that the unusual development of Korea-Japan relations came about only because of the conditions Japan created for Korean companies. This, of course, was in the interests of Japan as well.

Several Korean companies have simply surpassed many Japanese firms and industries. “Respect for Korean companies in Japan today is as much as that for traditional Japanese multinationals and that is why Korean officials and business houses now speak at par with the Japanese,” an official pointed out to peddle the argument that India will most probably have to initiate some major confidence building measures (CBMs) to raise the level of comfort in Islamabad. Tokyo also welcomes Pakistan’s decision to accord India MFN status. This will improve Indian trust in Pakistan and probably prompt it to be more magnanimous than it has been until now.

Japanese officials and academia also insist that, as an emerging regional power, India also needs to fix its relations with all its neighbouring countries. They, however, believe that for winning the confidence of the international community and of India, Pakistan, too, will have to demonstrate its commitment to the cause of peace and counterterrorism. Its military and civilian leadership will have to think out-of-box on how to massage the Indian ego, without compromising on the fundamentals. For Pakistan’s Japanese well-wishers, too, groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, or the Haqqani network continue to raise questions about Pakistan’s counter-terror commitment, and they (the well-wishers) wonder why Islamabad cannot clearly state its compulsions/limitations as far as the Haqqani network or Lashkar-e-Taiba is concerned.

Without a clearly defined rationale for reliance on, or some business relationship with, non-state actors, Islamabad should not hope to evoke sympathy or empathy for its policy. It is time for it to move to a security framework that relies on the economic strengths of the country rather than on obscurantist private militias, which have stigmatised the country beyond repair. It will take decades to make amends for the sociopolitical costs that an unrealistic security paradigm has inflicted on Pakistan.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk